updated 1/19/2006 10:32:15 AM ET 2006-01-19T15:32:15

Guest: Aparisim “Bobby” Ghosh, Chris Whitcomb, Susan Filan, Mike Paul,

Larry Kaye, Charles Hynes, Ama Dwimoh, Jeffrey Schwartz

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, the family of an American hostage held in Iraq pled for her return less than 48 hours before her captors say they'll kill her. 


ABRAMS (voice-over):  Reporter Jill Carroll kidnapped in Baghdad.  Her captors say the U.S. must release all Iraqi women in custody in order to save her.  We talk to one of her friends and hear what she had said on MSNBC about reporting in the region. 

And the wife of missing honeymooner George Smith tells all to Oprah and confronts the president of Royal Caribbean cruise line, demanding he be held accountable for mishandling her husband's disappearance. 

Plus, hundreds gather for little Nixzmary Brown's funeral, she was allegedly starved and then found beaten to death in her home.  Her stepfather charged with murder.  Now her mother charged as well.  We talk to the D.A. and his lawyer. 

The program about justice starts now.  


ABRAMS:  Hi, everyone.  First up on the docket, Jill Carroll, a 28-year-old freelance reporter for “The Christian Science Monitor” kidnapped 11 days ago.  A group calling itself the Revenge Brigade released this video of Carroll on Tuesday.  They're threatening to kill her if the U.S.  military doesn't release all Iraqi female prisoners by Friday.  White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. 


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Any time there's an American held hostage it is a priority for the administration.  Her safe return is a priority and that's what we all want to see. 


ABRAMS:  And for the first time this afternoon we heard from David Cook who's the Washington bureau chief for “The Monitor”. 


DAVID COOK, “THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR”:  We certainly haven't given up on getting Jill back.  And we were heartened by the statements that came out today by the Sunni politicians and by the clerics.  And we hope that before the deadline expires she'll be free. 


ABRAMS:  But NBC News Baghdad correspondent Richard Engel warns that the release of the video was not a very good development. 


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  A line has been drawn in the sand and demands have been met.  And that does escalate it to another level.  It's also a negotiating tactic from the insurgents who can say this is proof of life, we have a demand. 


Bobby Ghosh is a senior correspondent for “TIME” magazine, who was recently reporting in Baghdad and he knows Jill Carroll.  Chris Whitcomb, former FBI special agent, counterterrorism analyst, hostage negotiator and author of the book “White”.  Thanks to both for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

All right, Mr. Ghosh, let me start with you.  What do we know about this area where she was abducted? 

APARISIM “BOBBY” GHOSH, “TIME” MAGAZINE SENIOR CORR.:  Well, it is in an overwhelmingly Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad (UNINTELLIGIBLE) al-Adel.  It has been known for harboring many Sunni insurgent and terrorist groups. 

It is—I've been there many times, but always exercising maximum caution. 

ABRAMS:  So it's known as a dangerous area, right?  If fact, someone else, a woman who was eventually killed was kidnapped in that same basic area, right? 

GHOSH:  That's correct.  Margaret Hassan was kidnapped not far from there.  We've known that various insurgent groups have bases there, operate out of there, and there are frequent Iraqi and American sweeps of that neighborhood to try and grab the bad guys. 

ABRAMS:  Let me read a little bit—this from an article that Jill herself wrote in February/March 2005 in “The American Journalism Review”.

In a place where keeping a low profile is the best way to stay alive, the small operations of a freelancer seems safer than those of big media organizations, which rent houses replete with armed guards.  Several freelance journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq, but most agree such attacks have more to do with bad luck than with freelancing.

Bobby, what do you know about this organization that claims to have kidnapped her? 

GHOSH:  Almost nothing.  This is a new name.  Very likely it is a fake one.  Quite often in kidnappings like this, they invent a name.  The nature in which this video has been released—you can't hear what she's saying.  A small snatch of videotape suggest that this is a relatively new organization. 

The experienced terrorists have a much sleeker operation.  They put the word out almost immediately after a grab.  They have a video in which you can hear the victim speaking, usually reading from a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some kind.  This suggests to me that this is a group that is not familiar with this kidnapping business. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Chris, with all that in mind, how does that effect the negotiations? 

CHRIS WHITCOMB, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  Well, Dan, you only have two options.  One is negotiations, the other is a tactical resolution and I think that makes better sense.  If you don't have an open line of communication, all you can do is communicate through the media, and that's not very effective in any way.  Right now they want to gather as much information as possible and try to channel that to the tactical elements, meaning the military assets inside the country.  Yes, the FBI have 70, 80 people in country, the intelligence assets inside and try to do something to affect her release that way.  It's not as good a position here in terms of negotiations. 

ABRAMS:  Chris, what about working through the local clerics, et cetera?  It seems that's worked in the past. 

WHITCOMB:  Well that certainly is.  If you have an organization here that is not professional, quote-unquote “professional”, I think that very well may.  Remember Dan they're doing one of two things.  They're either trying to get something out of this financially, which is many times the case or they want to make a point. 

Those we've seen in the past where they're trying to make a statement, they issue a videotape and they kill the hostage because all they want to do is show the U.S. is a bad guy.  In this case we certainly hope that they want to get something besides that and that these clerics and the community leaders can shame them into giving her up.  And I think that's very good possibility in this case. 

ABRAMS:  Here's what—Jill Carroll was actually on MSNBC in February of 2005 talking about modern Islamic politicians in Iraq and women's right to work. 


JILL CARROLL, U.S. REPORTER KIDNAPPED IN IRAQ:  Many will tell you that they feel women should be doctors, whereas men should be engineers.  However, they always do make—stress that they want women to have a choice to either work outside the home or to not work outside the home or they'll translate too down the road, six months, a year from now and practice (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- we'll have to see how that pans out. 


ABRAMS:  Bobby Ghosh, I mean she is known as a reporter who went out there to get the story, maybe more than most, right? 

GHOSH:  Absolutely.  The one common thread in all of her journalism is you'll find when you read her reports is her effort to understand the lives of ordinary Iraqis.  She didn't confine herself to meeting the regular talking heads, the ministers and generals or going just to press conferences.  She always tried to make a connection with ordinary Iraqis, understand their lives, understand how they were living through this traumatic time and bring that out in her journalism.

ABRAMS:  Here's again more of what she said about covering this story. 

Only a story of this enormity, with nothing less than America's global credibility, the stability of the Middle East and countless lives at stake could be worth risking personal safety and financial solvency to cover it as a freelancer.

Bobby, I guess that sort of reflects her view on this (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

GHOSH:  Absolutely.  That sounds exactly like Jill.  She's articulate, there's many times in conversations with other journalists.  She passionately believed in the story.  She enjoyed living there.  She enjoyed working with Iraqi people, to a degree that is very rarely seen. 

ABRAMS:  Chris, this “demand”, quote-unquote—and I put it in quotes because it seems to me to be sort of nonsense, this notion that oh the Americans have to release all the female Iraqis who are in custody.  This is fairly typical, right?  They make these demands that they know are not going to be met. 

WHITCOMB:  Right, Dan.  Like I said two things, they either want something out of this in terms of money or they're trying to make a statement.  Those in the past that we've seen where they issue a videotape, they're just trying to show the world that they're trying to get the United States government and coalition forces to do something. 

And then they—in the past, have ended in violence.  We hope this is not that, that this is something that they will see that she's a liability, see that they really are not going to come out of this on the winning end and that they will make some kind of arrangements either to get rid of her or to work something out with those community leaders and those clerics who have been speaking out. 

ABRAMS:  Here's more from our own Richard Engel talking about the organizations that are engaged in some of this kidnapping.


ENGEL:  They're all half criminal, half insurgents, half money launderers, half smugglers, and they work to get money effectively and to get notoriety and sometimes both.  She can be passed off from one group to another.  I assume—that's almost always the case so I assume that's probably been the case this time too. 


ABRAMS:  This is someone who cared about everything that was happening and is someone who cares enormously about everything that's happening in Iraq.  A little bit more from her, talking about the Iraqi elections. 


CARROLL:  That is one of the main concerns officials have out here I think when they're envisioning the election and the coming new government, the last idea they had was to install any kind of religious government or mixing of secular religious law in the constitution. 


ABRAMS:  Well, Jill, I think we echo the sentiments of your family and your friends, who say that we are all thinking about you and hoping, praying for your safe return.  Bobby Ghosh, I know you are as well.  Thank you very much for taking the time...

GHOSH:  Absolutely.

ABRAMS:  ... to come on the program.  Chris, as always, appreciate it. 

WHITCOMB:  Thanks, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the wife of missing honeymooner George Smith goes on national TV along with Royal Caribbean CEO.  We've got a look at what she had to say including what she had to say about taking a polygraph. 

And hundreds turn out for the funeral of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown in New York.  Her stepfather accused of beating her to death.  Her mother now also charged with murder.  She was allegedly starved as well.  We'll talk to the D.A. and to the stepfather's attorney.

Plus, one of the only people convicted in the Oklahoma City bombing case getting out of prison early this week.  He testified against Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.  Some people are upset.  I'll explain why it actually makes sense that he's getting out. 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you're writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.


JENNIFER HAGEL SMITH, GEORGE SMITH'S WIFE:  It's nothing scandalous, I can say that, if that's what people are wondering.  Sometimes you know the answer or the truth is more basic or more simple than people like to think it is.  So people can you know read into that, as they will. 


ABRAMS:  You saw it on MSNBC first, Jennifer Hagel Smith in her first interview and now she's talking to Oprah, talking about the night her husband, George Smith, disappeared from their honeymoon cruise.  She said it's not scandalous.

The FBI actually gave her a polygraph to verify she was telling the truth when she said she doesn't remember what happened that night.  What we know is that she was found passed out in a hallway on the ship at about 4:30 in the morning and taken back to her room in a wheelchair.  It was about that same time that George Smith likely either fell or was pushed overboard.  Here's what she said on “Oprah”. 


HAGEL SMITH:  I can't even speculate.  People are going to slam me either way.  If I say you know oh maybe I was drinking too much.  I'll get slammed.  I'm the drunk bride.  If I say well maybe I was drunk, they'll say (UNINTELLIGIBLE) she's just making excuses for herself.


ABRAMS:  All right.  Joining me now former prosecutor and MSNBC analyst Susan Filan, maritime attorney Larry Kaye has been in close contact with lawyers for Royal Caribbean, and crisis management specialist Mike Paul, president of MGP and Associates.  All right, thanks to all of you. 

Let's figure out how she did, what we learned about this story.  The one thing that was new that came out in my exclusive interview with the captain was this business about her falling asleep, passing out, whatever, on the ship.  Here is Oprah asking her about that. 


OPRAH WINFREY, HOST:  Is it a fact that you had to be carried in a wheelchair because...


WINFREY:  ... you were so out of it?  And you were out of it from drinking, not because...

HAGEL SMITH:  We had no idea—well we were definitely drinking, but we—not to the extent that something this wild happened. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That you wouldn't remember. 

HAGEL SMITH:  Both of us on the same night and I have no recollection of that evening, on the same night my husband was killed or...



ABRAMS:  Susan Filan, it sounds to me like what she's saying is that there might have been some sort of conspiracy here, that she may have been drugged on the same night her husband was killed. 

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:   No.  She's in between a rock and a hard place.  What's happening to her is here she is, she is the drunk bride, she was partying, she did pass out.  She looks bad.  She's now trying to spin it so that she wasn't so drunk the she passed out.  Maybe she was drugged.  That looks bad, too.  The bottom line though is she's been cleared as a suspect.  She doesn't know what happened to her husband. 

ABRAMS:  No, no, I understand that...

FILAN:  She's got to play this a little bit differently than she's playing it.  She's getting tagged here.  She's getting drilled.

ABRAMS:  Well is she?  I mean I don't know.  I don't think—Mike Paul, I don't think it's such a big deal.  So she's saying, look, I don't know what happened, but I think...


ABRAMS:  ... it's entirely a weird coincidence that I pass out in a part of the ship at around the same time that my husband is killed.  I mean, I don't know—we don't know what happened, but is that such a crazy thing for her to say? 

MIKE PAUL, CRISIS MANAGEMENT SPECIALIST:  Well, again, we've got to look at this from both the legal perspective and the court of public opinion.  And one of the things that is obviously not a problem on a cruise is for you to have drinks and even to be drunk.  Now, the reason why I say that is if being drunk was a crime Royal Caribbean and every other cruise line would be out of business.  Everywhere you turn if you've ever been on a cruise, there's not only food, there's alcohol at every turn.  So the coincidence is sadly that there was something that happened during that time and this is a wife who doesn't know what happened to her husband.  Nor does the ship that was responsible for him and her during the entire time. 

ABRAMS:  Larry, what do you make of it? 

LARRY KAYE, MARITIME ATTORNEY:  Well, you know listening to this, what strikes me most of all is how sad this is for Jennifer and for the Smith family.  And I think we have to really remember that. 

PAUL:  Wow, a different tone today, Larry. 

KAYE:  Well, I think it's really sad and I've always said that.  My heart goes out to these people, if she truly doesn't remember anything, for whatever reason, it's a tragedy.  Imagine how the Smith family feels hearing that. 

ABRAMS:  Here's what she said about the issue of being polygraphed by the FBI. 


HAGEL SMITH:  They asked me if I was in the room, had I seen him go overboard?  Did I get in a fight with him?  Did I have doubts about like marrying George?  Did I have second thoughts?  Everything you can possibly imagine and the answer was no, no, no, no. 


ABRAMS:  This, even though Susan we've heard from people who were on that cruise.  I mean one of them Dominick Mazza in addition to other guests who were on that cruise—this is one quote from Associated Press of this Dominick Mazza.

She kind of pushed him away slightly and suddenly stood up and kicked him in the privates and stumbled out of the bar.  You could tell he was in pain.  I thought the kick was hard.  That was not fooling around.  His pupils were dilated.  I'll never forget that look in his eyes. 

Talking about what happened that night between them.  Does it matter to you what happened between them that night? 

FILAN:  Not to me at all.  I mean look this was a really drunken night and this was bar brawl behavior and it doesn't really look too good for this young bride.  But it has nothing to do with the mystery of what happened to George.  I think if we're talking today about P.R., I don't think she's winning in the court of public opinion.  It doesn't add up for me. 

ABRAMS:  I'll tell you, when you talk about P.R., I think...

KAYE:  Susan, I am happy to agree with you.


PAUL:  I disagree. 

ABRAMS:  Let me play one more piece of sound, then we can talk about the P.R. aspect of this.  And this is—she confronts the president of Royal Caribbean on the program and you know challenges him to a certain degree.  Here's what Adam Goldstein said, the president of Royal Caribbean, and here's how Jennifer Hagel Smith responded.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am sorry, and I say that on behalf of 40,000 people at Royal Caribbean, that we were not able to render you as much assistance and comfort as you would like to have had on that terrible day.  I am sorry about that. 

HAGEL SMITH:  Let's get back to George.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) important.  Why did we not—why couldn't we keep that ship there?  What is wrong with -- you have insurance for that.  You can keep that ship back.  You can send everybody home, everybody can go on their way.  You can give them two new cruises.  It doesn't matter.  The point is you made a decision to get the ship moving. 


ABRAMS:  You know Mike, it seems to me that she did a pretty good job of sticking it to Royal Caribbean. 

PAUL:  Absolutely.  And if I were coaching her, one of the things I would have said, which would have been another truth, is sir, thank you for your apology, but quite frankly there's a bigger question that I have to ask.  Where were you within the first 24 hours of this incident?  This happened in July, sir.  With all due respect, where were you?  We're in a different year now.  This is 2006. 

KAYE:  That's totally...

PAUL:  You had a responsibility to be there, and you're not there. 

KAYE:  That's totally unfair. 

PAUL:  Why is that unfair, Larry?

KAYE:  Because—I'll tell you—the cruise line was in constant communication...

PAUL:  I'm talking about the president of the cruise line. 

KAYE:  You asked me a question.  Let me finish.  The cruise line was in constant communication with the Smith family and with Jennifer.  The chairman of the board, who is the president's boss, personally phoned, and the president personally called the FBI on July 8th to see what more they could do. 


KAYE:  And it was—let me finish please...

PAUL:  Go ahead.  I'll let you finish.  Go ahead. 

KAYE:  Let me finish.  Let me finish.  Thank you.  And it was Mr. Smith's sister, Bree, who identified herself on July 6 as an attorney and said we don't want to hear from you anymore. 

FILAN:  But you have to understand the reason for that.  That's not fair to just throw that out without explaining the reason for that.  That's a very important piece here. 

KAYE:  Well you seem to know...


ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Let her explain. 


ABRAMS:  Go ahead.


ABRAMS:  Let her explain it.  Go ahead, Susan.

FILAN:  I've actually spoken to Bree Smith and we've talked about this and I have permission to repeat what she said on the air.  What happened was she learned early on there was an employee of Royal Caribbean who was a part of this investigation.  She's a lawyer.  She recognized immediately there's a conflict of interest.  So the person that's giving her information about what happened to her deceased brother is also covering their rear with respect to one of their employees...

KAYE:  Now that's ridiculous. 

PAUL:  Well let me...

FILAN:  Excuse me. 

ABRAMS:  Hang on.

PAUL:  ... let me answer Larry's question regarding whether it was appropriate for the president to get involved within the first 24 hours.  You started off very well, Larry.  You were very sensitive to the family.  Do you think that the answer to the family was to get in touch with the FBI or to get in touch with Susan directly, who lost her husband, yes or no? 


KAYE:  Her name isn't Susan.  Her name is Jennifer...

PAUL:  I'm sorry, Jennifer...

KAYE:  ... and they did both.  They did both. 

PAUL:  Well that's not what you just said. 

KAYE:  You're apparently not familiar with what they did, and like most of the spin-doctors on these shows, spouting off opinions about what they should or shouldn't have done, without knowing what they did do... 

PAUL:  Well let me tell you...


PAUL:  ... let me tell you as a...


PAUL:  ... as a crisis public relations...


ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Mike, Mike, let him finish his thought and I'll let you respond...


KAYE:  They were with Jennifer the entire day.  They had an officer on the ship with her the entire day.  The captain met with her.  They did the best they could.  You have to remember they're not CSI...


ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Hang on.  Hang on...

KAYE:  They're a cruise line.  This hasn't happened to them before. 

PAUL:  Exactly. 

KAYE:  This is something they did the...


ABRAMS:  Mike, quick response...

KAYE:  ... very difficult circumstances.

ABRAMS:  Mike, I want a quick response, then I'm going—we're going to hear from the captain.  Go ahead.

PAUL:  Number one, you hit the nail on the head.  The president and the cruise line never dealt with this before and it shows their insensitivity.  I didn't ask you to answer the question from the perspective of a captain. 

I didn't ask you to answer the question from any other employee...

KAYE:  I didn't know my deposition was being taken...


ABRAMS:  Yes, I know, I know...


ABRAMS:  Attorney Paul, hang on a second. 



ABRAMS:  All right.  Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  I want to bring in the—this is what the captain had to say and I was—again, no one else has talked to him except for us, and I wanted to know why—on the very issue that Jennifer was talking about before, why did the ship need to leave when it did.  Why didn't they stay there a little bit longer and figure out what happened.  Here it is. 


ABRAMS:  Apart from the technical aspect of the authorities saying we've completed our investigation, doesn't Royal Caribbean also have an obligation to say you know what, one of our passengers...


ABRAMS:  ... is missing and as a result, it's probably better for us not to just continue with the cruise. 

LACHTARIDIS:  To do what in Turkey?  To wait there?  For what? 


ABRAMS:  All right.  So Susan, get back to the question of the confrontation that we saw there between Jennifer and the president of Royal Caribbean, I mean Royal Caribbean has to be real careful here in terms of how they deal with her.  Because even though she's found passed out, she has been cleared as a possible suspect in this.  So as long as that's the case, then she's the victim's wife. 

FILAN:  Exactly.  She's a grieving widow.  She's lost her husband.  She's a newlywed.  It's her honeymoon.  And I have to agree with you, Dan, she did stick it to them and she's right.  Why in the world did they have to pull out so quickly?  What we have is a floating crime scene.  This needed absolute, top forensic investigation.  It needed the FBI to come onboard.  That blood should never have been hosed down...


ABRAMS:  All right, I don't want to get...


ABRAMS:  I don't want to get back into the blood hosed down...


ABRAMS:  ... this and that. 


ABRAMS:  Whether it should or shouldn't have been...


ABRAMS:  Whether it should or shouldn't have been hosed down is not the question. 

FILAN:  The ship should not have been moved.

ABRAMS:  Look, I think everyone agrees now it would have been better if they hadn't hosed it down.  The question is, based on what they knew then, based on the...

FILAN:  But Dan...

ABRAMS:  ... captain's conversations with the Turkish authorities...


FILAN:  But Dan...


KAYE:  ... why didn't the FBI and the Turkish authorities request that the ship stay there, but a ship does have...

ABRAMS:  But again the FBI wasn't really involved at this point, Larry...


ABRAMS:  Wait, wait.  Larry...


ABRAMS:  Larry...

KAYE:  The FBI...

ABRAMS:  Larry, the FBI was there...


ABRAMS:  ... in the form of a guy who was on vacation.  That's how the FBI  was there. 


FILAN:  Here's the problem...

KAYE:  Is that Royal Caribbean's fault? 

ABRAMS:  All right.

KAYE:  Is that Royal Caribbean's fault?

FILAN:  No, no, Dan...

ABRAMS:  All right.  Taking a break, taking a break, coming right back.  Everyone's got a lot to say.  Who knew this topic would be this—a deep breath. 

Hundreds gather for 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown's funeral.  It's coming up later.  She was allegedly starved then found beaten to death in her home.  Her stepfather charged with murder.  Now her mother charged as well.  We talk to the D.A. and his lawyer. 

And our continuing series, “Manhunt: Sex Offenders on the Loose”, our effort to help find missing sex offenders before they strike.  Our search today is in Massachusetts. 

They're looking for Robert Allen.  He's 31, six-foot, 210, was convicted of raping a child and indecent assault on a child, lascivious behavior.  He has not registered his address with authorities.

If you've got any information on his whereabouts, please contact the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry, 978-740-6400.  Be right back.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, the wife of missing honeymooner George Smith talks to Oprah and confronts the president of Royal Caribbean cruise lines.  First the headlines.


ABRAMS:  We're back.  Jennifer Hagel Smith speaking out again about what happened the night her husband George presumably went overboard on a Mediterranean cruise back in July.  This time she's talking to Oprah.  There's been an obvious rift between George Smith's family and his wife for months now.  Just last month Rita Cosby asked Smith's family if they're satisfied with the information they're getting from Jennifer. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think we'd like to have a little more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would like to have a little bit more from her. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She hasn't given us totally everything that I think she...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But I think she has stated that the FBI has requested that she keep certain things...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... from that evening quiet, so you know that could be the reason why we don't have...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And I think the truth will come out. 


ABRAMS:  Well Jennifer responded on “Oprah”, when asked if there's a problem between her and her in-laws. 


HAGEL SMITH:  I was always the one that lived.  I'm the one that's there.  I'm the one that made it home.  Why wasn't I there to protect George?  Why wasn't I there in that room?  Why didn't I know answers?  Why didn't I—I didn't have and I still don't have enough. 


ABRAMS:  And I would assume, Susan Filan, it was also probably embarrassing for her that she was passed out at the time that much of this happened. 

FILAN:  It's awful.  It's absolutely awful.  I mean the guilt that she must be feeling for not having been there during his time of need, the guilt she must feel for not remembering, her inability to convey information to law enforcement that could help solve this crime, and having to face her in-laws.  I mean she's in the worst possible position.  She's been cleared.  She passed a polygraph, but how is she going to get on with the rest of her life...

ABRAMS:  Is it possible though she's blaming Royal Caribbean in an effort to figure out who to blame? 

FILAN:  Dan, I don't think there's any question Royal Caribbean mishandled this.  I think...


FILAN:  ... for them to have pulled away like they did, for them to have destroyed the crime scene—here's the problem.  The captain pretty much when he talked to you on your fantastic exclusive interview, Dan, pretty much said hey, I thought it was an accident, man overboard, instead of treating this like a crime scene.  We'd be so much further along...

KAYE:  That's false, Susan.  That's false and you know it. 

PAUL:  Larry, you weren't there.  Come on.

KAYE:  That's—but we know what the facts are now. 

FILAN:  You need a new...


FILAN:  You can't say the same thing over and over again. 

KAYE:  We know what the facts are now.  This same rhetoric, angry rhetoric about cover-ups and destroying evidence is baseless, and you know it. 

PAUL:  Yes, but Larry...

KAYE:  You're a prosecutor...

PAUL:  Larry, you monopolized...

KAYE:  You call the FBI...

PAUL:  ... let's get some other comments in here.

KAYE:  You call the FBI, you call the Greek Coast Guard, you call the Turkish authorities.  They do the investigation.  If you have a complaint about the investigation, your complaint is with them.  This is a cruise line.  They're not CSI... 

PAUL:  Larry, somebody went on a ship...

KAYE:  They're not CSI...

ABRAMS:  Mike Paul, go ahead.

PAUL:  Somebody went on a ship on their honeymoon...

KAYE:  And it's horrible...

PAUL:  ... and never came back. 

KAYE:  It's horrible...

PAUL:  And it's great that you're now...

ABRAMS:  Larry, hang on a second.  Go ahead.

PAUL:  It's great that you're now in February—it's almost February now -

·         it's over six months ago that this happened.  I'll tell you why the president is so important to be involved from the outset.  When there's a crisis situation of this magnitude and I've worked on a number of them, it's important to show the leadership at the top shows empathy for the situation. 

Now you're an attorney, maybe that's not important.  Now you guys are learning how important it is, but it should have been done within the first 24 hours of this crisis situation.  If—the bottom line is this, Royal Caribbean is going to lose in both the court of law and in the court of public opinion if they don't have these things, empathy, truth, accountability and transparency...


KAYE:  Well they do...


KAYE:  They do have those things...

ABRAMS:  They would say that they have all those things...

KAYE:  They do have all those things...


ABRAMS:  Here's the...


KAYE:  ... to litigate the case in the media.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Here's the captain. 

PAUL:  Then what are you here for? 

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Hang on. 

KAYE:  What are you here for?  I'm wondering myself...

ABRAMS:  Because I invited both of you.  That's why you're both here.  OK.  So here's the captain talking about exactly—remember, there's a big dispute about what did the captain promise her father on the phone about how she would be taken care of, how she would always have security officers with her at all times.  Here's more of my interview with the captain. 


ABRAMS:  You had promised her father and her...

LACHTARIDIS:  Yes, I said to her...

ABRAMS:  ... that she would be accompanied by two security officers. 

LACHTARIDIS:  No, by two officers, by two officers.

ABRAMS:  And she says that didn't happen.  She says that she's taken to a Turkish police station, basically, alone. 

LACHTARIDIS:  No.  This is lie. 


ABRAMS:  And here's what Jennifer Hagel had to say about that on “Oprah” to the president of Royal Caribbean. 


HAGEL SMITH:  Can you at least be accountable for the things that weren't right, as opposed to saying we gave her magazines, we made her comfortable, we gave her a sedative.


ABRAMS:  The responses, Larry, were very formal.  He had to be, right?  I mean his lawyers probably gave him very firm instructions on what he can and can't say with regard to concessions.

KAYE:  Well except, Dan, as you've pointed out previously, he'd never heard those allegations before.  I think you were the first person to confront him with them.  I think he was shocked because from his standpoint, he's been a captain for 30 years.  He did all...

ABRAMS:  No, I'm talking about the president of Royal Caribbean with Jennifer. 

KAYE:  What are you asking? 

ABRAMS:  I was asking about the—she says can you at least be accountable for the things that weren't right, et cetera, and I said that he has to be very careful how to respond to that as a legal matter, in terms of what he can say we did wrong or didn't do wrong. 

KAYE:  OK.  I don't really agree he has to be that careful. 

ABRAMS:  Really?

KAYE:  I've—yes...


KAYE:  I've said...

ABRAMS:  As a legal matter, you'd say to him say whatever you want? 

KAYE:  No.  Let me finish, Dan.  You're answering the question you asked me yourself.  I don't think he needs to be that careful because for the life of me—I've been a maritime lawyer for 27 years.  I don't understand where the liability is.  Royal Caribbean did not kill George Smith. 

ABRAMS:  I understand...

KAYE:  Royal Caribbean didn't push him over if it was an accident.  Royal Caribbean didn't murder him if it was a crime.  Their alleged mishandling of the crime scene...

ABRAMS:  I think it's foolish...

KAYE:  ... that's in the jurisdiction of the authorities. 


ABRAMS:  I think the bottom line is to suggest that he didn't...


ABRAMS:  ... he didn't talk to the lawyers before he went on “Oprah” is just...

KAYE:  I didn't say he didn't talk to the lawyers...

ABRAMS:  And of course...

KAYE:  Of course he talked to the lawyers. 

ABRAMS:  And of course they said to him look, you've got to be careful in how you respond to this question...

KAYE:  I think he apologized sincerely.  I think his apology was sincere. 

ABRAMS:  I understand, but he had to be careful...

FILAN:  Dan...

ABRAMS:  ... what he had to say...

KAYE:  Of course.

ABRAMS:  ... point I made and I'm right...


ABRAMS:  Of course I'm right about this.  I'm not right about everything, but this one is self-evident.  All right, Susan Filan, Larry Kaye, Mike Paul, thanks a lot. 

KAYE:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, her stepfather allegedly beat her to death after subjecting her to torture, starvation, sexual abuse—this is such a hard story.  We hear from his attorney and the D.A. up next.


ABRAMS:  Coming up, her stepfather is charged with her murder.  Now little Nixzmary Brown's mother is too.  We'll talk to the prosecutor and his attorney coming up.



CHARLES HYNES, BROOKLYN, NY DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  And I can't imagine how anybody could engage at this level of brutality to a 7-year-old child.  I just—it's just unimaginable. 


ABRAMS:  The funeral today for 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown, the Brooklyn girl allegedly beaten for death by her stepfather last week.  Scores of friends, even strangers, filled the St. Mary's Church in Manhattan, spilling out onto the sidewalk. 

Her death has fueled public outcry over how New York protects abused children.  Hours after the funeral, the city's Administration For Child Services announced changes at the agency, including the suspension or discipline of a half dozen child services workers. 

New York Child Services commissioner John Mattingly said quote, “The staff made poor investigative decisions and gave inadequate attention to clear warning signs.”  Nixzmary is the fourth child to die while her case was under investigation by child welfare workers in two months. 

Her stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, is now accused of murder and sexual abuse.  Her mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, was also indicted for murder, according to prosecutors.  The mother failed to respond to her screams while she was being beaten. 

Joining us now is Brooklyn's district attorney, Charles Hynes, and chief of Brooklyn's Crimes Against Children Bureau, Ama Dwimoh, who is prosecuting the case.  Thank you both very much for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

HYNES:  Thank you.  Happy to do it.

ABRAMS:  All right.  D.A. Hynes, let me start with you.  The charges against him and her are the same? 

HYNES:  They're depraved indifference murder, yes. 

ABRAMS:  So as a legal matter, she doesn't actually have to have inflicted a blow.  Is that correct? 

HYNES:  Not necessarily.  It's the—it's a series of acts that are, when they're combined, lead to the charges.  There were allegations that she did punch Nixzmary Brown. 

ABRAMS:  And the sexual abuse, I assume, is from prior to that. 

HYNES:  Those are the allegations, right. 

ABRAMS:  And that is—I know you have to be very careful in not getting into details of anything that's been not reported, but that's based on talking to them or an investigation? 

HYNES:  It's based on a number of interviews with people who had direct access to the charges. 

ABRAMS:  And do your charges include the allegation that she had been starved previously? 

HYNES:  It's part of the charges.  It's part of the depraved indifference theory of the case. 

ABRAMS:  Ms. Dwimoh, do you have to deal with cases like this on a regular basis in New York? 

AMA DWIMOH, BROOKLYN, NY, ASST. DISTRICT ATTY.:  Yes, I do.  As chief of the bureau, we see cases involving the sexual abuse and the physical abuse of children under the age of 11, as well as we prosecute all cases of child fatally, homicides. 

ABRAMS:  Do you think, Ms. Dwimoh, that it's time for schools to be obligated to report signs of abuse to the police?  Because one of the issues here is the fact that the schools aren't obligated to say, hey, there may be abuse here, and report it to the police. 

DWIMOH:  Well, I mean, we do have the mandated reporting law in New York State.  And so schools are mandated reporters to the State Central Registry, but I think clearly Nixzmary's case tells us that we all must communicate more effectively with one another. 

ABRAMS:  And the mother has been charged with murder.  I mean—and Mr. Hynes, you're making it clear that the allegation involves beating, as well.  It's not just that she heard the cries and didn't do anything. 

HYNES:  It's the totality of circumstances, which underlie the charge of depraved indifference murder. 

ABRAMS:  You said in your press conference that schools really aren't obligated to report the signs of abuse to police.  Tell me about that. 

HYNES:  They are required to report to the State Central Registry, once they have that evidence.  The State Central Registry then sends that information onto the administration for the children's services. 

What I propose is a change in the social service law, to have co-reporting.  I think the police department ought to have the allegations of the abuse at the same time as ACS. 

ABRAMS:  And under New York law he is not facing a mandatory life sentence? 

HYNES:  No, he's not.  Because the murder in the first degree requires the killing of two or more people, except for police, judges or correctional officers.  There is a torturing section in the statute that requires us to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he got gratification from the torture. 

You know, I've spoken now to several legislators today and there is some interest in changing that statute to make it murder in the first degree for anyone who kills a child under the age of 14, and also to take away that qualification for torturing.  And if someone tortures someone, you know, I don't think we have to prove—we shouldn't have to prove gratification.  It doesn't make any sense to me. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, district attorney Hynes, thank you very much. 

HYNES:  Thank you very much, Dan.

ABRAMS:  And Ama Dwimoh, thank you.

DWIMOH:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Joining me now, criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Schwartz, who's going to be the defending Cesar Rodriguez.  Thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Is this a tough case to defend? 

JEFFREY SCHWARTZ, CLIENT CHARGED WITH KILLING STEP-DAUGHTER:  Well, I think cases like this are always tough to defend, especially when you have to face, you know, a whole presentation to the media and, you know, information being disclosed to the media. 

ABRAMS:  But how about the facts?  I mean, apart from this sort of issue of what's been released to the media or not, the bottom line is that the allegation here are absolutely horrific. 

SCHWARTZ:  Well, to be quite frank with you, what they're alleging is horrific and my source of information is the same as everyone else, is what's being disclosed in the media. 

ABRAMS:  Your client won't talk to you? 

SCHWARTZ:  No, I have spoke with him and I've met with him and I've asked him some brief questions about the case.  It's my standard practice though not to get too much into it until I see some court documents and see, you know, a bit more than just what I read in the papers and what I see on the TV. 

The problem is that, in a case like this, when you start having the media throwing out facts and, you know, just doing it in what I would submit is not the best way, it prejudices the client from the very inception of the case, and people end up having a preconceived notion.  That's what's going on. 

ABRAMS:  But that's what jury selection is for.  I mean, that's what jury selection is for.  You're a good lawyer.  You're going to be able to question jurors...

SCHWARTZ:  I will be able to question.

ABRAMS:  ... and you'll be able to ask them what do they know about the case.  I promise you.  I've covered everything from the O.J. Simpson case to Bush V. Gore.  You name it, you will find people who don't know about the case. 

SCHWARTZ:  I'm sure we will, but that's not the point of what I'm saying.  The point of what I'm saying is that the information that I have at this point has not been turned over to me by the district attorney yet, they don't have to.  It hasn't been turned over by the court yet, because it's not the appropriate time. 

And the point that I'm trying to make is that rather than rush to the judgment at this point and just try to vilify the people that have been placed under arrest, we have to be calm about it, we have to wait until we have an opportunity to evaluate the actually evidence. 

ABRAMS:  But is it possible a stranger killed her?  Is it possible that someone came into that house?

SCHWARTZ:  You know, I don't have a—you know, it's not—I'm not a fortuneteller and it's not my job to surmise or to guess.  My job is to defend him in the best way I know how, and I plan on doing that.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for the D.A., and for Ms. Dwimoh.  I know them both, I've worked with them both.  I think they're very responsible and very competent. 

ABRAMS:  You're in a tough position, I must admit that.  There's no question about ... 

SCHWARTZ:  Not any different than any other case.  It's just a case that the D.A.'s office has to prove and that it's my obligation to defend.  And we plan on doing that, and we plan on doing it vigorously. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, all right.  When you talk to your client a little bit more, you get a better sense of the defense, please come back on the program.  We'd love to talk to you about it.

SCHWARTZ:  Thank you.  It'd be my pleasure. 

ABRAMS:  Jeffrey Schwartz, thank you very much. 

SCHWARTZ:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, star of Oklahoma City bombing witness Michael Fortier admitted that Timothy McVeigh told him about his plans to bomb Oklahoma City's Murrah Building.  He says he never thought McVeigh would follow through.  He became the star witness against McVeigh and Terry Nichols, was sentenced to 12 years.  He'll be released this week.  Some are outraged.  Believe it or not, I say it's the right thing to let him go.  It's my “Closing Argument”.


ABRAMS:  My “Closing Argument”—why the star witness from the Oklahoma City bombing trial has served enough time behind bars.  Michael Fortier, a friend of bomb conspirators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols is expected to be released this week, a year shy of the 12-year sentence he received.  Now, my regular viewers know I'm often advocating tougher sentences, but it's also not often that a man who had no role in the crime itself and then helped make the case against the conspirators serves 11 years behind bars. 

Fortier admitted that McVeigh told him about the plot to bomb the Murrah Building before it happened.  He says he didn't think McVeigh would actually do it and there is nothing to suggest he helped them carry out the plot in any way.  But nevertheless he deserved to be punished.  But unlike most criminals who cut deals, the feds had almost nothing on him when he turned, possibly a gun charge.  He was called as a witness before the grand jury and rather than cover his behind like most, he came clean and told the authorities he would cooperate in any way he could.  That included incriminating himself by admitting that he was told about the plot. 

Under the law, his failure to report what he knew is a crime, but we need to encourage people like Fortier to come forward and come clean.  His testimony was crucial.  He told the back-story that made the other evidence, receipts, sightings, et cetera, come together.  Without him it would have been far more difficult to get convictions of both McVeigh and Nichols.  We always talk about using the justice system to send a message to criminals to let them know they will be punished for their crimes. 

Then we also need to send an equally important message to lesser offenders that they will get some benefit for testifying against their friends.  Fortier will now emerge from prison a targeted man.  He's given up everything because his buddies were evil, and now he's served more time than many of the prosecutors on this case ever wanted.  The victims' families appear divided.  I understand the anger of those who say he should remain behind bars because he could have prevented it from happening. 

But unfortunately that view of the system will ensure that many of the worst, the true evil doers will go free because we can't offer any incentive to get those peripherally involved to come clean and testify against their friends.  The criminal justice system should send a message to criminals, but it's got to be the right message, one that ensures that the very worst get punished. 

Coming up, yesterday I suggested that maybe I should go behind bars to find myself a woman.  Turns out I'm not the only one with that brilliant idea.  Your e-mails are up next. 


ABRAMS:  We're back.  I've had my say, now it's time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night in my “Closing Argument” I said it's starting to feel like single guys should trade in their pinstripes for prison stripes.  Just about every convicted murderer from a high-profile case is getting hitched in the pen.  They're getting many more offers.

C.J. in Los Angeles, “Been thinking of robbing a bank myself, not for the money, which I won't need, but to get myself one of those babes.  Of course that will require getting caught and convicted.”

David Zwald who works in a prison in Plymouth, New Hampshire.  We just had a few weddings.  As far as we could figure, it was because the women would always know where their men were at night.”  

And I pointed out that in 1987, the Supreme Court held that prison inmates have a constitutional right to marry.  Julie writes “I have to say I'm appalled that in this country in 2006 the Supreme Court rules that convicted murderers have a constitutional right to be married, but that I as a 43-year-old, hard working, taxpaying, law-abiding lesbian do not.”

Also last night, the administration being sued by two civil liberties organizations over the NSA spying.  One of my guests, David Rivkin, former Reagan and Bush one attorney was defending the administration. 

Harriet Beck in Los Angeles, “David Rivkin goes from network to network explaining who is being wiretapped.  How does David Rivkin know that?  Is the administration running those calls by Rivkin instead of the FISA court?”

But Carey Moore in Nashville, Tennessee, “What's the big deal if the Bush administration spies on us?  They've proven themselves to be the most incompetent boobs in history when it comes to intelligence gathering.”

Your e-mails abramsreport—one word -- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show. 

“HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews up next.   




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